He was a masterly poet, a sordid masturbator and, in his lonesome latter years, a misanthropic old sot whose head resembled “an egg sculpted in lard, with goggles on” (this is his description of himself).

Having avoided marriage, initially from a sense of artistic sacrifice, then, apparently, out of sheer emotional parsimony, he would spend solitary nights in his suburban home in (to him) faraway, fishy-smelling Hull, listen to jazz records, watch the darts and drink himself numb.

Larkin very much favoured the G&T…

When I drop four cubes of ice
Chimingly in a glass, and add
Three goes of gin, a lemon slice,
And let a ten-ounce tonic void
    In foaming gulps until it smothers
        Everything else up to the edge…

…and as an older man would start drinking it as soon as returned home from his job of running Hull University Library.

He gave up on his friends, including his once-dearest, Kingsley Amis, and increasingly looked to drink to make the loneliness bearable.

He was partial to certain wines, often ‘voiding’ a bottle of ‘Bojo’ (Beaujolais) or ‘Shabbily’ (Chablis) with his dinner. Whisky and sherry also featured prominently.

Towards the end of his life, while dying of throat cancer, he subsisted on Complan and cheap red wine, though he could have easily afforded a decent bottle.

It’s quite possible that, for the man who said “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth”, these hardships were a perverse comfort.

What a shit and a miser. But, as the poet Don Paterson says in an essay on Larkin entitled Life and Work: “A man who knew so little inner peace should be forgiven anything.”

He may well have been a shit and a miser, a misogynist and racist whose self-repression slowly but surely vitiated his soul – but his poems, his fine-tuned, unimprovably humane poems, more often than not speaking to the insomniac alone and anxious as the light of a new and awful day bleeds over the curtains, or the disappointed romantic perennially frustrated by the banality of the everyday, to these I raise a silent toast, with my own glass of Bojo or Shabbily or, who knows, maybe one day, Complan.


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.   
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.   
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.   
Till then I see what’s really always there:   
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,   
Making all thought impossible but how   
And where and when I shall myself die.   
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse   
—The good not done, the love not given, time   
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because   
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;   
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,   
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,   
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,   
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

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